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Urban Indicators of Climate Change

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The issue of climate change poses new challenges, and new opportunities for the field of public health. While the potential health impacts are distressing — asthma and other respiratory illnesses, infectious diseases, heat stress, heart disease — the preventative strategies include measures that could simultaneously improve air quality and enhance the livability of urban communities.

Urban Heat Islands

One of the most prominent indicators of climate change in urban areas is the phenomenon known as the urban heat island. This occurs when urban areas experience higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas due to the concentration of buildings, pavement, and other heat-absorbing materials. The resulting heat can have a number of negative effects on human health, including increased rates of heat stroke, dehydration, and other heat-related illnesses.The impacts of air pollution can be compounded by extreme weather events, whose intensity and frequency is increasing as climate changes. These include more heatwaves, drought-driven fires, floods and the impacts of warming are exacerbated by “the heat island effect”.

Rising Sea Levels

As the planet warms, sea levels are rising at an unprecedented rate. This poses a significant threat to coastal cities, which are particularly vulnerable to flooding and other climate-related disasters. In many urban areas, rising sea levels are already having an impact, with increased flooding and storm surges becoming more frequent and more severe.Climate change is a global issue that is affecting every corner of the planet. As temperatures rise and weather patterns become increasingly erratic, the impact of this phenomenon is being felt in cities and towns around the world. In this article, we explore the various indicators of climate change that are present in urban areas, and what they can tell us about the impact of this issue on our world.

Air Pollution

Climate change and air pollution are closely linked, with the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities contributing to both issues. In urban areas, air pollution is a major concern, with high levels of particulate matter and other pollutants contributing to a range of health problems. This can include respiratory issues, heart disease, and other serious illnesses. Allergens (molds and pollen) originating in rural urban areas can reach high levels in highly populated cities. Combustion of fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas – is responsible for air pollution and climate change, and air quality is a particular problem for urban centers worldwide. Traffic patterns and automotive exhaust, power plants, airports and industrial emissions are the primary sources, while wind patterns can bring in pollution and unhealthy air masses originating in other regions.

Biodiversity Loss

As urban areas continue to expand, natural habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate. This has a significant impact on biodiversity, with many species of plants and animals struggling to adapt to the changing landscape. In addition, the loss of natural areas can have a negative impact on human health and wellbeing, as access to green spaces and other natural environments becomes increasingly limited.

Water Scarcity

Water scarcity is a growing concern in many urban areas around the world. As the planet warms, rainfall patterns are changing, with many areas experiencing longer and more severe droughts. This can have a significant impact on human health, as well as on agriculture and other industries that rely on water.


Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the planet today, and urban areas are at the forefront of this challenge. By understanding the various indicators of climate change that are present in cities and towns around the world, we can begin to take action to mitigate the impact of this phenomenon. From reducing air pollution to protecting natural habitats and improving access to water, there are a range of steps that can be taken to help combat climate change and ensure a sustainable future for our planet.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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